Updated | Operation Dirty oil suspect Gordon Debono charged with laundering millions of euro

Gordon Debono and his wife Yvette have been charged with laundering millions of euro, while associate Sean Higgins is being arraigned for facilitating the money laundering

Gordon Debono, pictured right, had been arrested in 2017 by Italian police on connections to an international fuel smuggling operation (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Gordon Debono, pictured right, had been arrested in 2017 by Italian police on connections to an international fuel smuggling operation (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Gordon Debono, 46 and his wife Yvette-Marie Debono, 45, from Marsaskala have been charged with committing acts of money laundering over millions of euros.

Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo confirmed that the pair, who were charged with money laundering, were appearing in their capacities as directors of 11 companies.

The companies themselves: Hi-Low Properties Ltd, Petroplus Ltd, KB Investments Ltd, KB Lines Ltd, Seabrass Ltd, Petrobunkers Ltd, Oil and Ship Ltd, Gorge Ltd, S-Cape Yacht Charter Ltd, S-Cape Ltd and Yves Ltd, were also added as defendants in the case.

Gordon Debono alone was also accused in his capacity as a company officer of Petroplus, previously known as Tiko Tiko ltd, of making a false declaration to auditors, destroying or falsifying official documents and fraudulently disposing of documents.

Debono had previously been arrested on charges of fuel smuggling together with former footballer Darren Debono (no relation) and Libya militia leader Fahmi Ben Khalifa, with links to Italian Mafia and Libyan armed groups.

READ ALSO |  How smuggled Libyan oil brought by Debonos’ ships was stored in Malta: investigation

Gordon Debono, dressed in a red jacket and jeans, at first said he was unemployed and then asked the court to allow him to correct his statement to say he was self-employed.

Lawyer Roberto Montalto appeared for the Debono couple. He told the court that Gordon was pleading not guilty. Yvette-Marie Debono did not reply to any of the questions made during the initial examination, as a representative of the companies charged and therefore a not guilty plea was entered on her behalf by the court.

A freezing order was issued over all the moveable and immovable property belonging to the Debonos and the 11 companies.

Montalto requested bail for the accused. The prosecution objected on the basis of the serious nature of the charges and because the case was also at an early stage and civilian witnesses were yet to testify. In addition, the accused owned property abroad and several sea vessels which could serve as escape vehicles argued AG lawyer Cinzia Azzopardi Alamango. Finally the police investigations are still underway and several people are yet to be interrogated, she said.

Montalto argued that often prosecution submissions on bail turn out to be untrue. The charges carry a maximum punishment of 18 years, he added. To argue that cargo vessels could be used in an escape attempt was ridiculous, he said. The prosecution chimed in, pointing out that at least one vessel was a pleasure boat.

The smallest one was a 100m pleasure boat, Montalto said. It is public knowledge that Debono is on bail in connection with proceedings in Italy. The Italian courts had not only given him bail, but had allowed him to return to live in Malta, despite his many vessels, argued the lawyer.

The fact that property is owned abroad does not necessarily mean that he has no ties to Malta, Montalto said, pointing out that they have young children and kept “all of their assets in Malta.” “Do they not have strong enough ties to Malta?” he asked.

A substantial part of the acts dealt with the years 2016 and before- this indicated that the investigation would go back to 2013, Montalto said. Everything indicates that there is no risk of tampering with evidence as it deals with evidence which cannot be tampered with, said Montalto.

Yvette Debono, mother of 3 children, suffered from epilepsy, stated Montalto. He argued that both Yvette and Gordon Debono had no prior convictions.

At this stage, the court, noting that the investigations were still “very active” at this stage, denied bail.

In separate arraignment, Debono’s associate Sean Higgins was also accused of money laundering. He pleaded not guilty and requested bail. 

As he was arraigned lawyer Cinzia Azzopardi Alamango formally informed the court that Roberto Montalto might have a conflict of interest in representing Higgins, in view of his previous defence of the Debonos.

The court also imposed a freezing order on Higgins. 

Higgins was an employee of Debonos and facilitated the money laundering, argued the prosecution. There was also a risk of him tampering with evidence, argued Azzopardi Alamango.

Higgans, pictured right, pleaded not guilty to accusations of money laundering during the arraignment (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Higgans, pictured right, pleaded not guilty to accusations of money laundering during the arraignment (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

The case against Higgins was based on him cashing cheques for the Debonos, said Montalto. There are bank records documenting everything, second by second, he said. There was no risk of him escaping on any yachts or boats, in this case he said.

The court denied bail to Higgins.

The arraignment follows a number of raids carried out between Monday and Tuesday targeted at former footballers Darren Debono and Jeffrey Chetcuti. The two were arraigned on Monday, charged with money laundering and smuggling offences.

READ ALSO: Darren Debono, Jeffrey Chetcuti arrested in connection with anti-smuggling sting operation

Inspectors Joseph Xerri, Omar Caruana And James Turner prosecuted, together with lawyers Elaine Mercieca and Cinzia Azzopardi Alamango from the office of the AG.

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